Is that the evil gnome that lives under the cubicle? Nope. It’s Brian!
Brian and I had very different experiences telling our employers about our plans to leave our jobs to travel.
My boss has known about our travel plans since 2010 when, during my annual review, she asked me:
Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you think your future with the organization looks like?
I was so caught off guard by the formal questioning that I did something I never would have normally done in this awkward situation: I told the truth.
Welllll, I stuttered, Brian and I have this dream of traveling the world. I mean, there’s a lot that needs to happen between now and then, and it’s a long way off, but I guess that’s where I see myself in five years.
Internally, even as the words were tumbling out of my mouth, I was screaming to myself: Kim! Shut up!!! What! Are! You! Doing?!?!?!
I freaked out for weeks afterwards, certain that it was just a matter of time before I was called into the office and let go.
Since the accidental reveal, I’ve been semi-open about our plans. When we put our house on the market last summer, I told my boss it was a step towards our grand goal of travel. When we moved into our apartment, I told her we’d signed a ten-month lease and that we planned to leave when the lease was up. Then there is this blog, of course. The truth has always been just one google search away.
Brian’s employer, on the other hand, had no idea about our plans. I might go blab, blab, blabbing and skipping about like a delusional Mary Poppins, but Brian plays his cards a little closer to his chest. He planned to give six weeks notice.
That plan was thrown out the window when the supervisory position in Brian’s work group was suddenly vacated and Brian was tagged to fill the role, at least temporarily, while they recruited to fill the job permanently. On one hand, this was good news- more money to save! A great professional opportunity for Brian! On the other hand, it was bad news- Brian’s department was now severely short-staffed. His supervisors and co-workers laid it on thick, encouraging him in not-so-subtle ways to apply for the position permanently.
It felt like the Universe was testing us. After years of crawling up the ladder, not to mention a massive fight just to get on the damn ladder in the first place, Brian had a great opportunity for professional advancement. It came at an inopportune time.
We spent weeks discussing the situation. Should he apply for the job? Should he tell his boss about our plans?
Brian decided not to apply. He felt it was dishonest to take the job knowing that he’d be leaving five months later. He also decided to keep quite about our plans, though he hated that his co-workers and supervisors assumed that he wasn’t applying because he didn’t believe himself up to the task.
The stress of the whole situation weighed on him. He hoped that they would find the perfect candidate and that he could spend his remaining time bringing the new hire up to speed. Then, when he left, he’d feel confident knowing that he’d done everything he could to leave his supervisors and co-workers in a good spot.
A few weeks later they found a good candidate and offered her the job. She turned it down.
Now Brian was in a really bad spot.
His supervisors really pulled out all the stops this time around. Every member of the management team stopped by and told him they thought he would be good in the role. One of his supervisors told him it was fate, that the universe doesn’t normally offer second chances, and that he shouldn’t pass the opportunity up again. The other sat him down, looked him in eye and said: Please apply for the job.
He knew he had to come clean. He set up a meeting with this boss and promptly began worrying.
What if they fired him? What if they were angry at him? Even worse, what if they were disappointed? They’d invested a lot in him and he liked his job, he felt loyal to his colleagues. On top of all that, he also felt an unshakable guilt for choosing what he wanted to do- travel- over what people expected him to do- advance his career.
He didn’t sleep much in the days leading up to the meeting and was full of anxiety as he sat down with his boss. He knew she was expecting a much different conversation than the one that was about to take place.
He told her he appreciated that she wanted him in the position and he was honored that his colleagues thought so highly of him, but he wasn’t going to apply for the job. He told her that we’d dreamed for years of taking some extended time to travel and that we were finally in the position to make those dreams come true. He was happy at work, but his decision had nothing to do with work. The decision was about life and how he wanted to live it.
Brian’s boss paused briefly to organize her thoughts and then shocked Brian by what she said next.
She told him that she fully supported his decision. She still wanted him to apply for the job because, even if she only had him for four months, she’d take it. She told him that he needed to follow his dreams, that he’d never be content in his career otherwise, and that she’d do whatever she could to help him make his dreams a reality.
Then, she said she’d like to explore the option of a leave of absence. That, if on day 364 Brian didn’t want to come back, he could just call up HR and tell them so. She thought a leave of absence would give him a backup plan in case something went awry while we were on the road.
As Brian relayed the whole story to me later in the evening (over celebratory nachos and beers, of course), I couldn’t help but notice how relaxed and happy he was. He’d finally come clean at work. Not only was the weight off his shoulders, but revealing our plans had turned out even better than he could have imagined.
We’ve got 15 weeks of work left (67 work days, but who’s counting?) and finally (finally!) we can both talk openly about our plans. Revealing our plans has given Brian the freedom to get excited about our trip and he is diving into the planning process with an enthusiasm he didn’t quite have before.
Keeping quiet in the 9-5 feels like living a double life. I don’t think either of us really understood the kind of toll it was taking on Brian. Now that everyone knows about our plans, the reality of our adventure is really setting in.
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